A motivated terrorist attack with a far more deadly purpose than just killing people, Pathankot was a cold-blooded effort to derail the impending comprehensive “dialogue” between India and Pakistan starting Jan 15, 2016. While seven soldiers were killed and many more injured, Indian aircraft and related equipment on the airbase did not suffer any material damage despite the fact that the terrorists had AK-47 assault rifles, mortar rounds for makeshift rocket launchers, alongwith pistols and approximately 50-60 kgs of ammunition.
The Indian media invariably gets its “line” for dissemination from the security establishment, they declared “war” on Pakistan less than an hour after the raid started shortly before dawn. We kept holding our breath because the normal knee-jerk official reaction is to blame Pakistan straightaway for terrorist incidents and evidence be damned! While some of their claims have backfired spectacularly e.g. the boat incident off Mumbai which was televised live for Bollywood effect, we braced for approbation being eventually heaped on Pakistan’s ISI, and by inference, our Armed Forces.
Powerful extremist forces with a vested interest in sabotaging the Indian-Pakistan peace process exist on both sides of the border, this negativity is far more prevalent on the Indian side. Fanned assiduously by the virulently anti-Pakistan media and ultra-religious rightists, with Shiv Sena forming the hard-core of the inner BJP frothing at the mouth, this was an incident waiting to happen. Indians being past masters of “false flag” operations, this cannot be ruled out without incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. The number of casualties suffered by our forces in the last decade at the hands of the terrorists (6000 dead and over 21000 injured) makes such accusations blatantly far-fetched and preposterous. What they are propagating in essence is that our intelligence agencies, staffed by servicemen on deputation, are funding the killing of their own colleagues.
On the Pakistan side we have our own collection of homegrown terrorists of various ilk conducting “business” on their own. As if on cue, the leader of the so-called “United Jihadi Council” a coalition of various Kashmiri militant groups operating in Indian Held Kashmiri, claimed responsibility. This was enough for the Indian media and the opposition to insist that the militants were Pakistan-based and funded. If what Salahuddin says is true, and one must doubt his words given his dubious track record and penchant for grandstanding, we must arrest him forthwith. There has to be a zero-tolerance for terrorism.
For Gallians (students of Lawrence College, Ghoragali), Pathankot evokes memories about one of our legendary romantic icons, Capt (later Lt Col) Saeed Afzal Durrani (nicknamed CID, a mixture of “Saeed” and “El Cid”), was a Sword of Honor from the PMA and winner of the Norman’s Gold Medal. An outstanding soldier with superb intellect and vast knowledge, CID was the quintessential Commando, not the paper kind” (all talk and blatant lies), and having the brains to use his well-endowed brawn effectively. He topped a British SAS Specialized Course. CID parachuted, along with other SSG personnel, among them late Capt (later Brig) Hazur Hasnain and Capt (later Brig) Azad near Pathankot in September 1965, to carry out a commando raid on the IAF Air Base. Instead of the planned drop-zone 3 miles south of the airbase, they were dropped by mistake on a canal and village seven miles to the east very close to first light. Shades of US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions (among others) being dropped all over the place on Normandy on D Day! With the element of surprise lost and the cover of darkness denied, some SSG personnel drowned in the canal and/or died fighting off both the Indian Army and civilians who surrounded them. Led by late Hazur Hasnain (Sword of Honor from PMA) most of our SSG boys broke through the cordon and exfiltrated back to Pakistan successfully. CID and Azad was captured days later, both were subjected to extreme third degree.
Indian Defense Minister Parrikar could not credibly explain how a handful of gunmen managed to paralyze a large Indian air base for almost four days. On receiving “actionable intelligence” about a possible terrorist attack, the Indian Home Minister had immediately sanctioned 50 commandos from the elite “National Security Guards” (NSG) plus some Army units to augment the airbase security hours before the terrorist attack. Defending the delay in mopping up after giving “all clear” on the first day, Parrikar said that the base was large, and wooded in some places, making it difficult to pin down the gunmen.
A fifth gunman was killed on the third day of the siege but Indian officials reported belatedly that six gunmen were involved. Even on the fourth day they were looking for a possible sixth gunman. Maj Gen Dushyant Singh, Head of India’s elite NSG said, “the search operations will continue until all areas have been completely secured.” Parrikar claimed, “I see some gaps (in intelligence) but we will be able to understand only after the investigation. But I don’t think we compromised on security.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office said that the Pakistani PM had telephoned him from Colombo to discuss the Pathankot attack and that he had urged Nawaz Sharif to take ‘firm and immediate action’ against those behind the attack. Reportedly shortly before this conversation, ‘specific and actionable information’ on the audacious attack was passed onto our National Security Advisor (NSA), Lt Gen Nasir Janjua on telephone by India’s Ajit Duval.
The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan threw out the Mumbai 2008 “evidence” because it was mostly based on newspaper cuttings. No conclusive linkage to official agencies was ever produced despite the malicious harangue on the India media, echoed by their motivated counterparts in Pakistan. We cannot be held hostage by such mindless non-state actors. India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) Chief Kumar said there were no breaches in the fence with Pakistan, or any evidence yet about involvement of official Pakistani agencies. While maturity seems to have momentarily prevailed, how long will this last?
Mumbai 2008 underscored the fact that relationships between the two nations are too sensitive to be influenced by airing blatant fabrication and lies in the electronic and print media. On our part if the terrorists can be identified by electronic or forensic proof then we must act. Over the last month or so a level of trust has been built up, it cannot be allowed to be destroyed by the motivated machinations of mindless terrorists with contrary agendas. This is a defining moment for both India and Pakistan, we cannot be held hostage to the evil designs of non-State actors.
The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org